Volunteering sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s often used as a requirement or even as punishment. But the truth is, there are many wonderful benefits in offering our time to help our community.

With the pandemic, some organizations have reduced or altered their volunteer programs. Although the volunteering landscape might not look like it did in previous years, there are still many opportunities out there.Women delivering food wearing facemasks.

Improves College Application and Chances for Scholarships

Admissions officers love applicants with volunteering experience that is meaningful to the student. Volunteering shows time management skills and compassion for others. The more impact you have in your service, the more impact that will have on your applications.

Teaches You About Yourself and What You Like to Do

Spending time doing something can tell you if you want to keep doing it or if you’d rather not. This can help you decide what kind of job would be best for you down the road.

It Can Help Your Resume and Career

Volunteering can help you to gain experience, good references and could possibly lead to a paid job later on.

Help You See the World

Volunteers are needed everywhere. If the timing is right, and your parents are supportive, there are volunteering options in just about every country. Workaway is a great website that helps connect volunteers to organizations for short or long term opportunities.

A Better Purpose

In college, instead of going on a party trip for spring break, I went with our college Habitat for Humanity group to build houses in the South. We definitely had a blast, but it had a bigger purpose than the general spring break trip – we helped to build homes for families that wouldn’t have been able to have one otherwise.

A New Social Group

This can be a great chance to spend time with and get to know people who care about the same things you care about.

Mental Health Benefits

Volunteering can reduce depression, loneliness, anxiety and increase self-esteem. Being a part of something bigger than ourselves, helps to get our mind off of our own problems.

Other Perks

I’ve been volunteering for a non-profit thrift store that, in addition to selling cool second-hand items, also helps struggling people. As a volunteer, I get to see everything that comes in, and I get first dibs if I want! I’ve bought a lot of great things from there, and frankly, it’s fun! Great people, cool stuff and a good mission.

I have friends that volunteer with food distribution, and at the end of the day, they get any left-over food they want.

Volunteering doesn’t have to necessarily be through an official non-profit. Helping people you know, or picking up trash in your neighborhood, is just as important.

Potential Volunteering Options

  • Social media or photography help for small non-profits or churches
  • Animal comfort and care at a shelter or rescue
  • Helping to build homes with Habitat for Humanity
  • Food distribution for the needy, find a service in your area using this tool.
  • Helping an elderly relative or neighbor with errands or chores
  • Picking up trash at parks
  • Reading books to younger kids
  • Spending time with nursing home or assisted living residents

How to Find Volunteering Opportunities

Choose a cause that you care about. The more passionate you are, the more likely you are to do a good job and make an impact. If you already have a particular organization in mind, reach out to them directly to see what their volunteer needs are. If you have a cause that you care about, Google what organizations or groups might be active in that field in your community.

Volunteer Match is a site, recommended by Nebraska.gov, that helps prospective volunteers find a great, local opportunity that fits their interests and skills.

Volunteer Nebraska provides a free, fully adaptable recognition program to recognize volunteers throughout Nebraska. Their website also gives great volunteering ideas for all ages, even preschool and school-age children.

I spoke with Mary Ingram, founder of Volunteer Nebraska. Mary is passionate about community service. Her daughter started volunteering at only 6 weeks old at a nursing home and continued until elementary school. Mary says anyone can volunteer. “Service doesn’t have to be blood, sweat, and tears. What are you good at and what can you share with others?”

Mary’s understanding of “community service” changed when she worked as a diversion officer. She worked with young people who saw community service as punishment, and they dreaded it. Often they would be assigned random projects (like picking up trash on the highway) and they had no input or connection to what they were doing. Mary challenged them to come up with their own ideas on how they can serve their community. They created a youth council, hosting dances and concerts, and they continue to this day (after about 18 years). Their community service went from punishment to leadership, and it transformed those students.

Giving Back

When you offer your time and talents to others, you help make the world a better place. College admissions and employers like to see this. I think you’ll find, when volunteering for a cause that you care about, you’ll feel good too.